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[FYI] UK-DTI Mr. Wills: "We must all be free to live in cyberspa


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  May 19 1999

  We must all be free to live in cyberspace, says Michael


  But the Net is no longer a territory colonised only by
  those brilliant idealists who created it. Its success - with
  80,000 new users coming online every day - is rapidly
  integrating it into everyday life. More and more, what
  happens on the Internet erupts into the physical world and
  affects real people - for good and ill. Millions buy and sell
  over the Net: the global market for e-commerce is
  predicted to reach more than a trillion dollars by 2003.
  People meet over the Net. Criminals use it to evade the

  The debates taking place in this country and elsewhere in
  Europe and in international forums such as the OECD are
  being seen by some as a battleground between the
  individual and the State. They fear that the Net's success
  is creating a familiar itch in governments for control. 

  But if governments simply stood aside, what might
  happen? Would the Net continue to be a communal
  village, peopled by benign surfers? More likely we will see
  the real problems and conflicts of the non-virtual world
  seeping into cyberspace as use spreads. Reports in
  America suggest that fraud cases on the Net quintupled
  last year. The posting of MI6 agents' names on the
  Internet this week, dangerous to individuals and damaging
  to British interests, illustrates the problems governments
  can face. 

  And there are no easy answers. The technology enables
  the malevolent and the criminal to move more swiftly than
  ever before. And governments must always be scrupulous
  in their respect for liberty and human rights. 

  The task before us does not end with tackling the dark
  side of this revolution. Equally importantly, we must
  ensure that the benefits do not remain confined to the
  powerful and technologically literate. Without legislation, it
  would take time and costly court cases to establish a
  secure legal basis for the electronic signatures that are the
  building blocks for electronic commerce. In the meantime,
  the enormous benefits of doing business over the Net
  would be confined essentialy to the prosperous and
  powerful. The e-commerce Bill coming before the
  Commons later this summer will help to secure a
  framework of trust for doing business electronically as
  quickly and cheaply and fairly as possible. 

  Everyone must have a stake in this revolution. That is why
  the last Budget announced hundreds of millions of pounds
  of investment to make access to the Internet available to
  everyone, opening up new opportunities through a national
  network of learning centres. That is why the Government
  is launching a campaign to drive home to small businesses
  the advantages of the Net and the opportunities open to
  them through support centres nationwide. The fruit of the
  tree of knowledge ended innocence. But with knowledge
  came power. And the Internet gives human beings a
  unique opportunity to gain power over their own lives. But
  only if it is available to everyone. The e-commerce Bill
  and our investment in developing skills and providing
  advice will make a start in doing this. 

  It may once have appeared that the battle was between
  freedom and authority. Today it is about government
  finding ways to ensure that every individual and business
  can take advantage of the opportunities offered by new
  technologies and that they do not create new inequalities
  and undermine social cohesion. The debate over the
  Internet is not about big, bad government aching to
  control everything. It is about how government can best
  provide everyone with opportunities we could not have
  dreamt of ten years ago. The end of innocence can also
  be the start of mature freedoms.

   The author is a minister at the DTI 

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